I know weddings are supposed to be joyous occasions, but the truth is I’ve got mixed feelings about them. On one hand I do share in the joy of the beginning of a new chapter in life for all involved, but I also know that in weddings there is loss. No more midnight runs to taco bell, or staying up until two in the morning and sleeping over on the couch just for fun. There’s a reason for bachelor and bachelorette parties – these are the last “hurrahs” as one transitions, quite significantly I might add, from single life to marriage.
Every time I’ve sat in attendance at a wedding I’ve noted this same mix of emotions in those around me too. The mix of sorrow of loss, and joy of new beginnings. The loss of a son or daughter, of a best friend, sister or brother. Of reminders of things that can never again be how they were before. And there are happy tears and smiles for these things too. Weddings are messy affairs.
Come to think of it I feel the same way about graduations too, and pregnancies, job promotions, and moves. There is beauty, opportunity, and humanity in these things that we celebrate raucously – but there’s loss mixed in too. When anyone goes through these significant life transitions, all around them are forced – somewhat unfairly even – to make adjustments to accommodate the change. For a time it may even seem that the relationship rules have changed so much that it requires remapping from the ground up.
I know that it is in this same spirit of mixed emotions that a good friend of mine contacted me to express their sense of loss in my transition.
There were themes of confusion and frustration in not knowing how this will affect our relationship, of the fear of awkwardness, of the unfairness of it all, and the sense that others may be feeling this way too but being too afraid to say anything.
All this is at least partially true. Transition is in many ways unfair on relationships. It requires adjustment on the part of not just one person, but most everyone involved; perhaps even a renegotiation of expectations that were established over years or decades in some cases. And despite not knowing what else to do, I have felt guilt over what I ask of others in this.
Like my friend, I felt a similar mixture of emotion when s/he got married. It’s true that I was really happy for them – for finding and embracing the love of their life. But marriage also introduced a new person into the friendship that changed the dynamic of our interactions. It meant s/he had new “responsibilities” and a new “role” to fulfill in contrast with the 20-something single person I could hang out with. In many ways when s/he walked out the door with a new spouse, s/he walked away from an aspect of our friendship. Selfishly I suppose?
The same happened at graduation, and when s/he moved away from our small town. S/he ran off to pursue love, happiness, and parenthood practically skipping with joy. All without stopping to consider how it would affect me. Of what s/he was asking me and other friends to give up, to adjust to, to accept. Of the awkwardness of adjusting to this new imposed reality.
My conversation with this friend happened over a couple emails, and a recent phone call. The last time I asked if we could talk s/he responded that s/he could, but couldn’t do it until the kids were to bed.
A few hours later we spoke. We ended up talking about all the successful life transitions we’ve been able to navigate together already. Of maintaining a friendship that could have easily been torn apart by distance, marriage, of surviving significant shifts in both of our political and spiritual identities, of moving from childhood to adulthood, of career changes, of sickness and financial struggle. Of “having to wait to put the kids to bed before we can even talk on the phone,” they said. It was true.
We realized that our friendship isn’t built on our shared politics, or shared geography, or our marital status, or our parental status, or religious identity, or socioeconomic status, or race. Sure, each of these have had an impact on our relationship through the years, but the friendship isn’t based on those things – but on something that’s deeper. Something that makes all the above twists and turns navigable somehow, and makes it all worth it.
That our friendship is based on my gender identity, and that my transition posed a threat seemed silly in the context of all the above. Friendships like ours we realized are built to survive. Do we not intentionally sacrifice much – risk much – in order that those we love the most might fulfill their own hopes and dreams? We do. It’s beautifully human. And it’s a two way street. Not a single one of us has a friend or family member who has not made an adjustment for us, nor who has not asked the same from us at some point. Such is the very nature of mature relationships.
In transition there is loss. This was pretty clear by the end of our conversation. Some of it is real, and some of it is hyped up by nostalgia and imagination. But after thinking and talking about it we realized that gender transition didn’t bring losses that were so unique, so different, so challenging that the friendship couldn’t endure. Besides, the people that truly know me, such as my family and close friends, can see how much happier I am. Most of them, including now this dear friend, may feel a sense of loss – but it’s mixed in with happiness too. So the relationship endures.
We’ve done this before. We’ll do it again and again as we grow old. This is exactly what this friendship was made for.
Hang in there dear friend.